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Finding_DoryA cute but ultimately emotionally static sequel to a beloved animated film. Disney-Pixar’s highly anticipated sequel Finding Dory makes a splash this week. Following the critically acclaimed success and continued popularity of Finding NemoFinding Dory hopes to find a place in your heart as well. Unfortunately, this film struggles to leave as lasting an impact as the first movie. Many film and Disney enthusiasts, approaching this film, knew that it was most likely going to be either a Cars 2 or a Toy Story 2; it falls somewhere between the two, but closer to the former. Not straying too far from from the plot of its predecessor, Finding Dory‘s message about disabilities turned strengths get a little lost in the emotionally static feel and somewhat forced turning points and dialog. The film certainly has its moments of laughter and surprise, but those are few and far between. Using its predecessor as an example, it is highly unlikely that Ellen DeGeneres could have been replaced by any other voice actor and the character of Dory still remain as endearing; however, honestly in this film, not just Ellen, but any of the other voice actors could have been replaced and the characters and plot play out just the same. A film needs to be a roller coaster of sorts–have its ups and downs–but Finding Dory pretty well stays rather somber the entire time. But yes, it does have some funny and pull-at-your-heart-strings moments. All in all, this movie feels like a forced sequel that wasn’t entirely necessary but produced in response to the high demand for a return to the world of Dory, Marlin, Nemo, and their friends.

Many years before Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) and Marlin (Albert Brooks) bumped into each other, Dory was just a baby fish with two loving parents. Struggling with short-term memory loss from an early age, Dory’s parents worked with her everyday to learn and grow. One day, she found herself all alone and couldn’t find her parents. And over the course of years searching, she found her way to the reef where she encountered a frantic dad searching for his son; and well, the rest is history. Moving up to present day. With an inability to shake the feeling that she keeps forgetting something really important, Dory finally remembers that she lost her parents. Although the memories are vague and spotty, she knows for certain that she needs to find them. After begging Marlin to go on another adventure out past the drop off, Marlin and Nemo agree to partner with Dory in search of her parents. From one side of the ocean to the other, nothing will stop Dory from locating her long lost parents to reunite as a family.

Like with Zootopia as well as other Disney films, there is usually a message in the subtext of its animated features and shorts. Finding Dory clearly has a message about perceived disabilities. Perceived in that, what is otherwise a physical or emotional disability, can be used to develop strengths. Most of the characters that you will encounter in this movie have some kind of disability. Dory and her memory is the main one, but there are definitely others. I don’t want to give much away, so we’ll just leave it at that. Although I feel the approach to writing this message into the diegesis of the film was a bit forced or heavy-handed, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it was handled very well and is mostly seamlessly integrated into the plot and mild character development. The two characters who offer the audience the most, in terms of character arc and development are Dory and her septopus friend Hank (Ed O’Neill). What’s a septopus? Just watch the film and find out. Both characters are mildly entertaining but lack that magical spark that was so much a part of Finding Nemo. One area that sequins sometimes find themselves in, is pulling from the first movie so much that you leave the sequel wondering why it was even necessary. Thankfully, that really isn’t the case with Finding Dory. But you’ll be happy to know that you will see some familiar faces from the first one, including everyone’s favorite sea turtle and stingray. Among the new characters in the movie, my absolute favorite was Becky!! Such a hot mess and quite possibly a little disturbing. Those eyes, though. She was so instrumental in my enjoyment of the movie!

I had the fortune of screening the film with one of the lead vocalists from Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo the Musical. And I won’t disclose who it was, but he “totally” eats, breaths, and sleeps Nemo and his friends. This was a fantastic opportunity to include an analysis of, not only my point of view on the film, but someone else’s who has a lot of time and energy vested in this property. I half expected him to disagree with me after the movie ended when we began discussing it. But, it turns out that he feels very much the same as I do. He was able to point out some elements that were actually taken from the show at Animal Kingdom, which was really cool! It’s a show that I watch fairly often as well, as I am a former Cast Member myself and current Annual Passholder. Having the ability to discuss Finding Dory in regards to how it fits in with not only its predecessor but the live show was fantastic! He echoes many my same opinions on the movie, but also adds that the kid behind us told their mom that it was amazing. So, in terms of how well this film plays out for children, it does a great job. Many of the young people are about the same age I was when I saw the first one. I think what I missed most in Finding Dory as opposed to Finding Nemo is the lack of comedy. There is definitely some funny moments in the film but the comedic timing and structure simply doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor. Reminds me of a quality just above a straight to DVD/BluRay or a commercial-free Disney Channel Original Movie. Let’s remember this: Toy Story 2 was also a fairly week sequel–albeit entertaining and heartwarming–and then it came back with the phenomenal tear-jerker Toy Story 3, so it is entirely possible that the Nemo property will go through the same evolution.

Competing against Central Intelligence and a handful of limited releases, Finding Dory is sure to beat out the competition this weekend. And for what it’s worth, it is a fun movie that warms those of us in our 20s and 30s with childlike nostalgia of when we first saw Nemo. Is this destined to be the next great Disney-Pixar film? Probably not. However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy it with your friends or family. Certainly, it is a wonderful movie to be enjoyed with those who love seeing familiar characters and meeting new ones. I just wouldn’t go into the movie looking for an excellent and dynamic story.

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